After 30 years in the coaching business, Maryville College coach Tony Ierulli has learned a lot about football.
The tragedy he has been dealing with since late Monday night, however, doesn't have a playbook or lesson play. Cody Bowers, 25, an assistant coach at the college, died Monday after his four-door Toyota truck struck a tree on road leading to Ruby Tuesday Lodge on Maryville College campus. Bowers' friends Trey Lefler and Matt Lambert were also critically injured in the one-vehicle collision.
“I’ve been in this business 30 years and have never taken a class on how to deal with this,” Ierulli said while sitting in the Maryville College campus ministry building.
Maryville College president Dr. Gerald Gibson echoed Ierulli’s sentiments. “It’s not something that you get used to,” he said.
The coach gathered with his wife, Carol, and a standing room only crowd of students and professors to remember Bowers and pray for Lefler and Lambert.
Ierulli said he met with the football team shortly before the memorial service and told them to do something in honor of Bowers this Thanksgiving weekend. “I said do something this Thanksgiving for Cody. Hug your mom and dad and tell them you love them,” he said.
Ierulli said Bowers was a lot like his own son A.J. because Bowers wasn’t afraid to be affectionate with his own father or other relatives. “He reminded me a lot of my son,” Ierulli said.
Bowers was in love with Maryville College and coaching football at Maryville College, said his coach. “He didn’t care how much he got paid. Marvyille College was his dream job,” Ierulli said.
Ierulli said Bowers was growing as a coach, was improving each week and was looking forward to recruiting in the off season. His attitude set him apart from others. “You looked at him and saw optimism, energy and youth. The guy loved Maryville College and Maryville College football,” Ierulli said.
The coach said Bowers was probably closer to many of the players simply because, at 25, he was closer to their age. “They were able to confide in him,” Ierulli said.
Gibson said in the 14 years he has been president, three or four deaths of students or faculty have occurred during school term. “You have to pull together,” he said. “It shows the kind of strength of community there is on a small campus.”
Rev. Anne McKee led the memorial service of prayers in memory of Bowers and for healing for Lefler and Lambert in the Samuel Tyndale Wilson Center for Campus Ministry. McKee also spoke of the strength of community at the college and the faith of individuals on campus. “These are people of deep faith and different expressions of faith. People who are deeply faithful in different way, and the college pulls together,” she said.
McKee said that at Maryville College, students are encouraged to find a vocation that matches their passion and allows them to serve others. Bowers had found his passion in coaching football at Maryville. “He loved Maryville College, and he loved football,” McKee said.
McKee said that often people speak of moving but in her opinion God also moves within people’s lives. “There is an energy and a dynamic. I have no doubt when they hit that tree, God was ready to catch Cody in loving arms,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt it was a soft landing.”